My mother passed on 24 October 2013 at the age of 79 from complications resulting from pneumonia. Her memorial on 30 October was conducted, in accordance with her wishes, at St John's Methodist Church in Central, Port Elizabeth.
Here is the eulogy I delivered at the memorial:
"Born as Yvonne Lorraine van der Westhuizen on 25 August 1934 in Adelaide district EC.
The 2nd youngest of 7 children, youngest of 5 daughters.
Her father passed away in 1942, leaving her mom to raise the children on a widows pension.
She went to a farm school until the family moved to PE in 1948 when she turned 12.
She attended primary school in PE at Excelsior in Brister Place for a year before starting high school.
She attended Pearson High School from 1949 to 1950 when she finished with a standard 8 as was the custom for girls in those days.
She began her working career at the Wool Board during her std 8 school holidays.
She went on to work at Robertson & Moss and later at Engineering and Hardware for a number of years as a reception and store admin where she made good friends and developed the work ethic she became known for throughout her working career.
Mr Green, one of her managers, established a PE flying club and she became the first secretary of the club.
She was learning to fly when she met my dad, and stopped because it made him nervous!
Mom and dad married in 1955.
She started working at Colonial Bank (later Wesbank) in 1956 where she met one of her lifetime friends, aunt Hazel, who passed away in 2011.
Mom and dad tried to have children for 17 years, before finally I came along, unexpected after they had already given up hope.
She worked at the bank as a switch board operator, a teller and later as a managers secretary until 1972, shortly before my birth.
She started to type court case transcripts from home for Lubbe Recordings when I was ten months old. She continued to work for this company and its successors, through Sneller and finally for the present firm, Ikamva Veritas.
I leaned to play the piano from my dad, and I learned to type from mom.
In 1982 mom stopped smoking with great difficulty when she feared ill health from her years of smoking. She enjoyed 2 good years without any lung problems after that.
In 1983 mom started to work for the Dept of Justice at the Magistrates Court in the typing pool. She became known for her speed, language skills, capability and work ethic.
In 1985 she developed asthma as a result of untreated pneumonia and she suffered from asthma and COPD for the rest of her life.
In February 1985 she bought a house at Richmond Hill which she as a single parent managed to pay off completely by the time she retired.
In August 1985 my dad passed and she took it very hard.
In 1988 at the age of 52 she learned to drive and got her drivers license.
In 1988 she got her first car, the little 1979 "Golfie" she was so fond of.
In 1989 her mother passed.
She was promoted and transferred to the Supreme Court at their new building in Bird St in 1990 as their principal typist.
She taught me to drive in 1991. She also taught me how to dice - and how to win. Just never give up.
She retired from the Dept of Justice in 1998 but continued to work from home, typing until her passing.
She often told me that she worked harder on pension than she did before pension and that "old age is not for sissies", and I believe her.
Mom helped me to have the operation I needed. I have no doubts whatsoever that she accepted me and loved me as much as any mother should.
Mom and I were always close, particularly after my dads passing in 1985. The older she got, the closer we became, and as her health deteriorated, the more she began to rely on me. She often remarked that she was so lucky because when she needed a son she had one, and when she was old and needed a daughter, she had one.
Mom had a unique outlook on life, she helped others less fortunate than herself, and she worked to instil that ethic in me and in others around her. When she was met with frustration or tragedy she always said that her sense of humor saved her. Often when I was feeling down or frustrated, she used to cheer me up by saying "it could be worse", encouraging me to look at the bright side, and to see the funny side of it in order to pick myself up and to move on. As she did.
One of mom's greatest gifts to me was teaching me that its okay to laugh at myself, and to remember the good times - and that it helps to get us through the dark times when we can take ourselves and our predicaments too seriously. Its always what has saved mom's sanity, and mine.
She loved a good laugh, she loved her family, brothers and sisters. She was generous and would help people who would come knocking, even if she was battling. She supported groups like Cerebral Palsy and Institute for the Blind. She was one of the strongest, bravest people I knew, who met her own ill health with endurance, fortitude and determination.
She was a good sport, and we enjoyed our yearly holidays together, our trips to Knysna, our shopping excursions every Saturday, and our weekend lunches where she loved to try new places and new menus.
She is one of the most loved people I know, all my friends thought she was fantastic, and one of the ladies at Spar who saw us regularly cried when they found out about her passing.
She was more than just my mother, or a house-mate. She's my best friend. When I was small she used to tell me "It's you and me against the world". I promised her when I was small that she would never go to an old age home, that I would look after her. I'm happy to know that this is how it worked out after all.
Ma, when you were alive I told you I love you every day. I know you can hear me now, so I'll keep telling you anyway."
My friend Michael Wynne also spoke at mom's memorial, his eulogy below:
"I didn’t really know Yvonne very well. To me she was this sweet old lady who I would see when I visited Christina. She wouldn’t really say much except for hello and goodbye but when she did she would smile the kind of smile that would say, “Welcome in my home and welcome in my life”.
I can’t tell you important things about her from how she lived because I didn’t know her but I can tell you important things about her from how she died.
I was watching her vitals on the screen and saw that she was going down fast. So I said to Christina, “Say what you need to say”. Christina understood that the end was close and started talking to her mother. I stepped back to give her and her aunt some privacy so I couldn’t really hear what was said. What I do know is that Christina was racing against time to say as much as she could between the floods of tears. It tore my heart to pieces but in those few minutes I witnessed the perfect moment. Christina stopped talking and there it was, the perfect moment, her mother nodded. She had heard her daughter’s last words to her and she understood them.
I watched as Christina on one side of her and her aunt on the other, in unison, put their arms on her chest. I didn’t understand why until I saw how hard they were holding on to her. They weren’t saying goodbye. They were trying to protect her from what was coming and as the minutes ticked away they held tighter and tighter and even after she let out her last breath they still held on for as long as they could.
So, what can I tell you about Yvonne from how she died? I can tell you that she was very brave. She fought tooth and nail until the very end. I can tell you that she taught her child the right morals from the way Christina stayed at her side, night and day. I can tell you that she was someone who loved to laugh from the way that her sister and daughter would laugh with me even in such terrible circumstances. And I can tell you that she loved with everything in her from the way that I saw these two people at her side trying to protect her.
Yvonne was a good person and I am sorry that I didn’t get to know her better. Christina used to tuck in her mother every night and say that she loved her so I walked away from this with the feeling that I didn’t say to my loved ones that I love them enough. I walked away from this knowing that I don’t show my loved ones that I love them enough. I walked away from this knowing that most of us take our loved ones for granted. We have petty arguments that have no meaning. We hurt each other over the smallest things. We harbor anger and frustration and hold grudges over one another and for what, mundane everyday little things that mean nothing at all.
I leave you with this, you only have one life. You only get one shot at this so say what you need to say while you still can."
A very big thank you to every one of you who cared, called, visited, sent flowers or were "just there" for us and our extended family.
A Letter To Tina:
A few days after mom passed, I found something she had left for me. A note. It was something she had started typing for me in August because she feared the end was near and because there were things she wanted to say to me that perhaps she couldn't vocalize. And then her computer's hard drive died and when I told her she would need a new one, she told me about the note. So I saved the hard drive for later - until the Sunday after her death. I knew she hadn't typed another note, and I thought "maybe it will work long enough for me to find the note". So I took it out, plugged it into my pc and crossed my fingers. It did work, and I found it. I read it - and I wept out loud.
"A letter to Tina
This is just to thank you for everything you have ever done for me, small and big. I was blessed to have you in my life, without you, I would not have had much of a life but you made up for everything that was wrong in my life.
I do not want you to blame yourself for anything that you have ever done. I want you to know that you were always loved by me. I was blessed to have you in my life.
We have had some very good times, remember them and think of me kindly. I know I have been difficult lately and I am sorry. I know my time is running out and I am scared, I do not want to leave you alone to carry on, but I know you are strong, and that you will cope. Please always be happy and cheerful and do not let things get you down."
I know it was unfinished - but mom had said everything that mattered, everything in those few words that was most important for both of us.
I remember too, on the night before she died, when she could still speak, if only barely, when I kissed her good night and said "I love you, Ma." she nodded and smiled faintly at me and replied "love you too, lots and lots like jelly tots".
This is something sweet and sorrowful at the same time. Bittersweet it's called. It's terrible and beautiful at the same time. It's something I will remember and feel, always and forever.